Monday, November 30, 2015

The wee small hours

I'm just reaching the stage of my latest book when I always feel poised on the edge of panic. Having worked all this time to create a complex plot with twists, turns and an elusive perpetrator, it has now reached the stage when I have to bring all the threads together to provide a neat conclusion.

It's not so bad when I'm actually at my desk and I can work to my guiding principle, 'Follow the Story'. It's when I wake in those dark hours of the night when it's hard to keep a sense of proportion and toss and turn with my head full of my characters and their problems and become convinced that this time I really have painted myself into corner and the whole thing has now become so complicated that I can't unravel it.

Of course I could get up there and then and go back to my desk but on the whole I don't find this a very good solution; there's still the next day to get through and an exhausted author isn't a very good one.

The solution is clearly to work longer hours during the day and let the story sort itself out in the obliging way it always has before. The only problem is the other things that get in the way.

Like Book Week, Scotland. Scotland has a very enlightened approach to the Arts and there is a system whereby libraries can apply for funding to host a speaker. The speaker is paid £150 to do an event; the Scottish Book Trust will pay half of that and also for travel and accommodation if necessary and Book Week attracts a lot of funding.

I love doing library events – and not only because I'm paid. I think in the many I've done over the years, I have only once had a leaden audience and never a difficult one. They are usually hugely responsive and you are often talking to people who don't really have the money to buy all the books they would like to read and are truly enthusiastic and appreciative. The library will often also arrange to have books on sale for signing and we're now into the ‘Happy Christmas’ inscriptions with people buying for friends and family.

So what's not to like? There is just the small problem that while you're having a lovely time with people who will actually laugh and clap and then tell you how much they love your books you're not sitting at your desk getting on with it – and  that night again there's the wee small hours torment.

And then there's the run up to Christmas, with family descending from three different directions and expecting food over an extended period, and they tend to expect presents as well ...

But unless they're going to have a hostess who falls asleep over the turkey, I'm going to have to hope that the brilliant ending I'm hoping for is vouchsafed to me within the next few days.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

T-day dinners and other memories

Here in the US of A we joyfully cram our stomachs full on Thanksgiving Day. We could easily match the excesses of Roman aristocracy if only we had the rumored vomitoriums. Hosts put a lot of care into the meal, and I've never been to a T-day dinner where the food wasn't good. But not every Thanksgiving meal is memorable, in fact few are.

I got to thinking about specific meals that stuck in my mind. One Thanksgiving dinner that stands out is the only one I spent by myself. It was at a diner in Bisbee, Arizona, back in 1975. Another occurred last year when I delivered T-day leftovers to my friends Angie Hodapp and Warren Hammond who had just returned to Denver after a long, long flight from China.

Another remembered meal was when I caught up to my high-school best friend during our time in the army. We spent the afternoon in a Mexican restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. We ate and drank and ate and drank. Hours passed and dinner over, we expected to stumble into cool night air. But it was still light out and the sun's merciless glare stung our bloodshot eyes.

Another food-related snap shot. During a prolonged and painful period of unemployment, I finished grad school and to celebrate both my master's degree and my expected return to work, I arranged for a dinner with my critique group at a small bistro. The future never seemed so hopeful.

Another military meal. I had just completed the Fasotragulant Navy S.E.R.E. school near Brunswick, Maine. We students--Army Special Forces and Navy aviators--spent days hiking over the wilderness like hunted animals, eating nothing but tree bark and tiny raw trout caught with safety pins. That trial was followed by more uncomfortable days in a simulated POW camp run by a sadistic cadre who never broke character. Late in the afternoon of the last day, a bus rolled up to take us back to the navy base. Dinner included an urn of hot black coffee, another urn of steaming chicken-noodle soup, and a yellow sheet cake, which we stuffed into our faces during the ride to civilization. A humble repast but one of the most satisfying meals of my life.

Years later, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, for Bouchercon 2008. At the time, since I was still in HarperCollins' stable I was invited to their authors-only fancy, schmancy dinner. The other authors included HC's big hardback mystery NYT-bestsellers and international writers who sat with the editors at the big table. Because I was merely a writer of paperback vampire novels, I was shuffled to the equivalent of the little kids' card table where I sat next to Sarah Weinman. Later that night, Jane Friedman, the President and CEO, stopped by to say hello. She not only knew who I was, she even signed my name tag. I decided to keep that tag as a memento of my days with HarperCollins, not realizing that within weeks, Friedman and many of the editors at that dinner would be gone from the company. Ironically, I had outlasted them.


Friday, November 27, 2015

The Ghosts of Books Past

For some time now I've been thinking of my all-time favorite books and feel compelled to reread a number of them.

Thanks to Amazon it's easy to track down these old books that I've remembered for a lifetime. I still own a lot of them. My interest is more than a nostalgia kick, although I am a nostalgic person. This obsession was stirred up by my whimsical treacherous muse who pointed out that I needed to improve characterization.

The books I especially admire were mostly commercial successes, but that not why they stuck with me. I loved the central character in each one. But beyond that, these characters had a huge heart-wrenching problem worth wresting with.

For that matter, it seems to me the old writing books had a lot more information than the manuals I pick up today. I'm re-reading Maren Elwood's Characters Make Your Story. It's outstanding. It's tough reading and I don't think I understood some of her points until I had written several books.

Elwood insists that characters come from within. Spinning them from thin air doesn't work. You can give a man a quirky car, some semi-handsome physical attributes, a few snarly snappy lines and he will still seem like everyone else's cardboard cut-outs. Ditto for Too Stupid To Live Heroines. You know. The ones who never call for back-up. Or run around saying, "Oh I'll show him!"

Here is a just of a few of these old, old books I'll re-read and why:

Green Dolphin Street--Elizabeth Goudge.  It's my all-time favorite whose theme touches a spiritual chord within me. Goudge, has the  ability to make unlovable multi-dimensional characters profoundly lovable.

Love Let Me Not Hunger--Paul Gallico. This is a hauntingly beautiful insight into the cloistered world of the circus. Who knew that this society fostered it's own royalty? What I remembered forever and forever was Mr. Albert, the animal trainer. How did Gallico so vividly create such a noble humble old man whose personal story broke my heart?

A Distant Trumpet--by Paul Horgan. A historical novel telling about the Indian wars and the relentless campaign to hunt down the Apaches. And for years, whenever we moved to another town, another library, or even when I was visiting relations, I went to the their library to look up General Alexander Upton Quade. I couldn't believe he wasn't real. After forty years went by, I found out this character was based on the autobiography and writings of General George Crook. Horgan told the‎ story from the Indians' point of view as well as the soldiers'.

Not As a Stranger--Morton Thompson. One of the great all-time medical novels. Not only was it informative, I had such hopes for the protagonist. He was destined to be one of the all-time great doctors.

Five Smooth Stones--Ann Fairbairn. One of the great social novels and one of the few that delved into subtle Northern racism. This was published in 1966 when the Civil Rights Movement was roiling America.

Rebecca--Daphne du Maurier. Need I say more? One of the great classic mysteries, which was the forerunner of the gothic novels. At one time I couldn't get enough of them.

There are some common denominators to all the books I've mentioned. They all have great plots. Every single author is a masterful story-teller. And for some reason they are all l-o-n-g.

Will these books still resonate with me forty years later? Will I still have the same insight? Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Collage

John here.

Once again, my post falls on Thanksgiving in the US. I have much to be thankful for -- and my writing career is a very small part of that. I am grateful to be part of the Midnight Ink family and to have Julia Lord and Ginger Curwen representing me.

Most importantly, I am grateful for the home team and time this week to be together. Here's a collage from Thanksgiving week.

My daughters Delaney (right) and Audrey

My mother Connie and Edie


Happy Holidays!

Delaney and Audrey in the kitchen
My sister Kelli


The family
Nana and Keeley, 7


My stepfather Mike
My wife, Lisa

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Turkey Day Mysteries

It’s Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. Poor Thanksgiving. I feel sorry for it sometimes. Wedged in-between Halloween and Christmas, it often doesn’t get the attention it deserves. With some stores open on Thanksgiving Day, the focus seems to have gone off giving thanks and spending time with family to Christmas shopping.

This got me thinking about mysteries that take place around Turkey Day. I can think of plenty of Christmas and Halloween mysteries, but few based around Thanksgiving come to mind. That seems rather strange to me. The holiday is almost made for murder. Put some families together around the dinner table and voila! arguments start, old grudges come to the surface, family secrets are revealed. All good bases for murder mysteries.

I did a little investigating to see how many mysteries I could find taking place around Thanksgiving. I came across more than I expected. Here are a few of them:

The two I immediately thought of were The Killer Wore Cranberry and Secondhand Stiff. The first is an anthology of short stories centered around the Thanksgiving holiday. There have been three more volumes since. I’ve only read the first one, which I enjoyed. I expect the others are good as well.

Secondhand Stiff by Sue Ann Jaffarian is one of my favorite books in the Odelia Grey mystery series. Let’s just say Odelia’s family doesn’t always get along. When her mother’s stay is extended after the Thanksgiving holiday, some of the family attend a storage facility auction where cousin Ina’s husband is found dead in one of the units for sale.

Turkey Day Murder by Leslie Meyer. This is the 7th book in the Lucy Stone mystery series. It’s set in Tinker’s Cove, Maine. The Thanksgiving festivities include a high school football game where Metinnicut Indian activist Curt Nolan is found dead with an ancient war club next to his head.

The Alpine Vengeance by Mary Daheim. This is the 22nd installment in the Emma Lord series. It’s set in a small town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. I love this series, partially because I grew up in Washington state, but also because it’s just a good series. In this one, the town of Alpine, Washington is preparing for Thanksgiving when anonymous letters are sent to the sheriff asserting that a murder conviction of a town resident from ten years earlier was the result of a wrongful arrest. The man has died behind bars. Then a fourth letter arrives “threatening retribution in the form of another death.”

The Pumpkin Muffin Murder by Livia J. Washburn. This one caught my eye because I’m partial to all things pumpkin including pumpkin muffins. This is number 5 in the Fresh-baked mystery series featuring retired small town Texas teacher Phyllis Newsom. I haven’t read it, but it looks pretty interesting. It’s Thanksgiving and Phyllis takes her grandson to the Harvest Festival, hoping she’ll win the baking contest. Then a decorative scarecrow turns out to be a body in disguise...

So, Type M Reader? Do you have any favorite mysteries centered around the Thanksgiving holiday? What are you reading this week?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All in

by Rick Blechta

I know my share of very successful authors, you know, the A-list types who actually have the stature that their publishers will pay the freight and do the grunt work for publicity. Make no mistake about it, though, these authors still work very hard when they’re on the I’ve-got-a-new-book-out road, but I will also add that having someone paying the bills, arranging for local publicists, handling the bookings, etc. does make it a hell of a lot easier to bear.

The question everyone else has is this: How do I get to that stage in author-dom?

Well, generally one of three things has to be at work:
  • You’re very well-known for something else. Dick Francis was a champion steeplechase jockey before he began writing thrillers.
  • You’re incredibly lucky. Before The Firm, John Grisham was not all that successful. The novel was the beneficiary of an extraordinary promotional push by its publisher.
  • You’ve written an extraordinary book that everyone connected with it will move heaven and earth to get the word out and make it a success.
But there is a fourth way, and that’s a really tough road. It involves the author believing so much in themselves, justifiably I might add (the ditch by the side of the road to publishing success is littered with authors who believed in themselves but couldn’t deliver the prose goods) and devote all their waking hours, all their finances to achieving one goal: becoming a publishing success.

One of my ultra-successful author-friends literally hand sold books one at a time. I shudder to think of the number of signings, literary events, conventions this man attended (and still continues to attend). After a lot of miles and burning through a big chunk of change I’m sure, things started happening for him. He began to win awards. Novels got optioned — and produced! Now, this author did indeed have the ability to deliver the goods. Anything he writes goes to the top of my to-be-read stack. He’s seldom let me down.

But here’s the thing. If he hadn’t taken that leap of faith and gone all in, he might well not have risen to the top of the heap. It was his personal spade work in the book promotion trenches, that critical networking, those miles of being on the road which made his route to the top a success in the end.

Can we all do it? Well, no. Personally, I have too many responsibilities to family to be able to take the risk. It’s something I’m not prepared to do to them, because ultimately it is a rather selfish, or should I say self-centred thing to do.

I did, however, do it in my youth with a band I started. We had that belief in ourselves and the ability to be really extraordinary. It was a very heady ride while it lasted, but ultimately, we were too young and emotionally immature, had really inadequate management, but also couldn’t manage to get that one little sliver of luck to make stardom happen. Eventually I had to give up and get a “real” job.

So success is possible, but it is a very hard slog. One has to deal with so many things that are beyond your control. You can be the hardest worker of all time, but if someone wants to, they can easily stick a knife in your laboriously inflated balloon. You know what happens to them, and that’s exactly what it’s like watching your hard-won career running out of luck.

Still, it’s one of the biggest reasons we all keep on. We might actually manage to snag that brass ring on the very next trip ’round the publishing merry-go-round.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Mini Vacation

by Vicki Delany

Oops, is it my day again! 

I am working this morning on the final proofs for Reading Up A Storm, (by Eva Gates) coming in April, and I had some CWC business to do earlier. So about all I have time for now is to tell you about my vacation.

I took myself off on a short trip to Quebec City after my launch for Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen in Ottawa. I'd never been there before, despite living about 6 hours drive away.  A friend told me that the Chateau Frontenac, the huge luxury historic hotel there, was having a "Christmas in November" promotion.  

It was a great chance to stay at the famous hotel for a reasonable price, so I booked myself in for three nights.

I had a marvelous time.  Just enjoying the hotel, walking and walking and walking through the old city, and eating and drinking. 

The hotel was wonderful, as befits its reputation and location (and regular price) and the city is a marvel. You really do feel as though you are in France. Quebec City is the only remaining walled city in North America, and most of the walls are still in place, as are buildings and streets that date from the 17th century.

To make it all even nicer, the city is getting ready for Christmas. Here are some pictures. I hope you enjoy them. 












Saturday, November 21, 2015

This weekend’s guest blogger, RJ Harlick

I’d like to welcome RJ Harlick as our guest blogger. RJ writes the popular wilderness-based Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. With an underlying Native theme, each book explores not only the motives behind murder, but also issues facing Natives today and their traditional ways. Like her heroine Meg Harris, RJ loves nothing better than to roam the forests surrounding her wilderness cabin or paddle the endless lakes and rivers. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. A Cold White Fear, the seventh in the series, has just been released. RJ is a past president of Crime Writers of Canada.

Launching into the great unknown

I’m thrilled to be making another appearance on Type M for Murder. Thanks, Rick, for inviting me.

I celebrated the launch of my latest book, A Cold White Fear, this week at a local pub in Ottawa with good friend and Type M blogger Vicki Delany, who was launching her latest, Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen. Even though this was the seventh book in my Meg Harris series, I still found it as thrilling as the launch of my very first book, Death’s Golden Whisper.

I know some authors don’t believe in official launches, but I’ve done it for every book and wouldn’t think of tossing it into the great unknown of discerning readers without a party. I love being able to celebrate my latest achievement with friends, family and fans. My sister even gave me a gorgeous orchid to mark its birth. For a few hours I am able to bask in their excitement at the prospect of reading a new book. For me it is a fitting end after months spent alone in front of my computer bringing my treasured words into fruition. I would feel cheated, if I only relied on my publisher’s press releases and ads to get the word out there. Sure I post numerous announcements of its pending release on Facebook and various blogs, but there isn’t the same feeling of celebration as there is with a gathering of excited readers.

For my earlier books I used the lobby of a nearby library for the venue, but I found it cold and uninviting despite being packed with gregarious readers. Three books ago I switched to a local pub and liked the warmth it exudes much better. A tipple or two doesn’t hurt either, on the part of the readers that is. I wait until after my reading to have my celebratory glass of wine or two, otherwise who knows what I would end up reading.

The pub I use has a room that is separate from the rest of the establishment, so I don’t have to contend with noisy chatter from regular pub goers, plus I can get the manager to turn off the Muzak. You want people focused on your reading and not on the conversation going on at the next table.

A pub location does however restrict the timing of the launch. Needless to say Thursday through to Saturday evenings are a non-starter. I usually chose Tuesdays, a quiet night for a pub and a night most people are likely to have free. Some of my fellow writers chose Sunday afternoons, another quiet time for a pub. But I prefer evenings, which gives the launch a more party-like atmosphere. To handle book sales, I bring in my favourite independent bookseller, rather than trying to manage that aspect myself.

Since people are there to chat with you and each other and to get a glimpse of what the book is about, buy it and get it signed, I like to keep my words to a minimum. I do a short five to seven minute introduction to the book along with appropriate thank you’s, followed by a short five-minute reading.

I always start with the first chapter. I figure if my first chapter can’t spark interest at the launch how can I expect it to draw in readers who pick it off an anonymous bookshelf. But I do some editing. I know, you’re probably suppose to read every word, but I don’t. I usually leave out the text that provides situational information that a reader reading the entire book would need. And I always end it on a cliff hanger. Usually this is the end of the first chapter, but sometimes it isn’t. I want my listeners to be hanging on every word, dying to know what will happen and when I don’t reveal it, having them rush over to the bookseller to buy the book to find out. I follow the same practice with any public reading.

After that the fun begins, chatting with everyone and signing their books, though I do find it a challenge to come up with appropriate and unique inscriptions. After all, you don’t want people comparing books and discovering that they all have exactly the same inscription.  And oh yes, now I get to enjoy a glass of wine.

In closing, I’d like to introduce you to A Cold White Fear, now available in a store near you or any online bookseller and in all ebook formats. This seventh Meg Harris mystery is a thriller, a departure from the crime-solving story lines of my other books, though they all have a thriller aspect to them. It’s an action packed read. One reviewer said she started reading it when she went to bed, couldn’t put it down and ended up staying up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it.

It’s the week before Christmas and Meg is alone with her young friend Adjidamo in her isolated Victorian cottage.  Outside a blizzard rages, closing off all road access. A knock suddenly echoes through the house. She discovers two men at the front door, one of them bleeding. And so begins a terrifying night that has Meg summoning up a courage she didn’t know existed to get her and Adjidamo out of it alive.
__________________
Visit RJ Harlick’s website, www.rjharlick.ca, for more information. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Moving up the Hierarchy

Last night I was watching Cupcake Wars. The four bakers were competing for $10,000. The winner would also have her fabulous cupcake creations served at the star-studded celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the iconic TV sitcom, I Love Lucy. I was watching this show because I love shows about food. But I was thinking now and then that I should be writing my post for today. But it has been a labor-intensive week, so I stayed there on the sofa with Harry, my cat, sleeping, belly up and paws in the air, beside me.

This week I finally finished the synopsis of a proposed book and sent it off to my editor. Actually, I sent a short version and a very long (34 pages) version. I had spent so much time on that 34 page version that I couldn't not send it along. When I was plotting this book, I used script-writing techniques to craft my scenes. Unlike when I simply outline, my characters had a great deal to say. They started talking to each other. Knowing I should type instead of telling them to shut up, I included those snatches of conversation in my synopsis. My characters were talking about what they needed. They were explaining how what they had done was related to what they wanted. In those snatches of conversations --either stated or implied -- they were telling me about the internal needs that motivated them.

My cat, Harry, had his bedtime snack early last night and at 7:47 am, he meowed politely outside my door. Harry has been incredibly considerate these past few weeks. A friend says Harry has "mellowed out" now that he knows he is really home and it's okay when I put him in his carrier and in the car (that I do intend to bring him home from the vet's or come back after my vacation to retrieve him from his sitter's house). Harry no longer meows and knocks on my door with his big paws (Maine Coon mix) because now he is not worried that I have disappeared and he is not going to be fed. He now sits on top of the radiator waiting for me to come out and raise the blinds so he can bird watch. Or he sits outside my door waiting for me to wake up and come out -- so quiet that I've almost stumbled over him a few times. But this morning, he was hungry, and he thought a polite meow would let me know that his stomach was rumbling.

Harry has reminded me of something I learned in Psychology 101 (or, whatever that long-ago Intro Psych course at Virginia Tech was numbered). It was in that course that I first heard about Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Offering a theory of human motivation, Abraham Maslow argued that humans are motivated by needs that range from basic physiological needs to self-actualization. Humans . . .

I had to take a break between paragraphs because Harry was standing beside my chair meowing insistently.
(Photo taken by his sitter, Russ, on another morning).

This morning, having had his breakfast (wet prescription cat food mixed with pumpkin) and spent some time looking out the window at the birds sitting in the leafless small trees, he felt compelled to remind me that I had neglected to carry out our morning ritual. Each morning, using a pet grooming tool that has a metal rake on one side and a bristled brush on the other, I attend to Harry's fur. When I adopted him in October of last year, Harry's back had been partially shaved because his fur was matted when he came into the shelter. Now, his fur has grown back and is luxurious and thick, and it tends to tangle on his stomach. I suspect that he knows he will be swallowing a lot of hair when he grooms himself if I don't brush him first.

But having me brush him each morning is also Harry's way of maintaining our connection. He is moving up his cat hierarchy. As he is being brushed, Harry is ensuring his continued security and maintaining bonds of affections. I'm pretty sure he's also nurturing his self-esteem ("I'm a handsome cat. I cannot be seen with my coat looking scruffy").

Observing Harry has reminded me about my character's pyramid of needs. My characters -- whether in my 1939 historical or the whodunit with the very long synopsis -- are not going to zip through my books without stopping for meals or bathroom breaks. Yes, the public stakes may be high in my thriller, but along the way my protagonist and his valiant team are going to have those moments I've always loved in books and movies -- the outlaws are lurking outside, but inside the safety of the jail Dean Martin is stretched out on a bunk and he begins to sing about his pony and Rick Nelson joins in and then Walter Brennan pulls out his harmonica. . . yes, I watch too many old movies.

But my point is that I have now found another way to think of that dictum that in every scene in a book or story, each character should want something. Harry -- meowing again, paws on my knees, before he jumps, all 16.5 lbs of him (he's a pound from his goal weight), onto my lap -- is working on his hierarchy. He wants to sit in my lap because he's ready for a nap. He could be much more comfortable on the sofa or curled up on the radiator or an area rug. But he wants to sleep in the crook of my arm as I type. His need to bond and feel secure makes him want to sleep in my lap even though he has better options when it comes to physical comfort. A cat's reminder that meeting ones needs sometimes requires trade-offs. I must keep this in mind about my characters.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Promotion

This year's Suit of Lights

Donis here, writing on a sunny Wednesday in Arizona. My latest Alafair Tucker novel, All Men Fear Me, finally had its official launch at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale last Saturday, the 14th. As usual I spent a lot of time picking out my outfit, or as I call it, my "suit of lights". This has become something of a ritual for me when a new book comes out. Though I don't know why. I've seen many a Big Name Author show up at personal appearances dressed like s/he just rolled out of bed.

My launch, with Betty Webb, Jenn McKinlay, and Kate Carlisle, was a lot of fun and there was a big crowd in attendance, which is always very nice. The very next day I drove the 100 miles down to Tucson to do an event at Clues Unlimited Bookstore along with fellow PP author Jeffrey Siger. Clues is a small place but it was packed. So my first two official promotional events for this book were successful and pleasant and many books were sold. I posted some photos of both events on my own website if you'd like to indulge.

I have today off, but tomorrow I'm off for another several day of appearances and programs around the state. When I'm in the middle of the Big Push it's very difficult for me to keep to my accustomed writing schedule, and howsoever much I enjoy myself, it is unlikely that my events are going to make me a New York Times bestseller.

Which brings up the question of why we do it. We mid-listers seldom get paid for our appearances, so travel is expensive, disrupts your life, and eventually becomes incredibly tiring. Yet it is very helpful to meet readers face to face. I'm often surprised by readers' thoughts about my novels. They see things that I didn't see myself. Sometimes I'm shocked by a reader's interpretation, and sometimes amazed and flattered to find out how insightful I am without even knowing it!

Also, I can't overstate how important it is to develop relationships with librarians and bookstore owners. They are the ones who are going to recommend your books to readers, so we authors had better do our best to deliver a good product and a good program for them.

When I can, I try to arrange appearances with other authors. First of all, that could broaden your audience appeal. Most importantly, it is incredibly helpful to get to know your fellow writers. In my experience they are a bright, thoughtful, intelligent and kind bunch, and it is very helpful to hear that even authors who are much more well-known than you also suffer the same writing pains as you do.

I don't know of one veteran author who hasn't had the experience of schlepping miles to do an event and then one or two (or no) people show up. If that happens, remember that even if just one person shows, your should treat her like Oprah's niece. Word of mouth is as valuable as gold.

Still, it is easy to become disillusioned with public appearances since they are not what is going to give you that push into best-sellerdom. My advice is not to expect them to. The thing that is going to make you the next J.K. Rowling is a dash of luck and writing a fabulous book.

There is only one of those things you can do anything about.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Life and art

Barbara here. In her Monday blog, Aline talked about the pitfalls and joys of research, which can suck hours, even days, out of one's writing schedule. She mentioned the delights of wandering from link to link on the internet, an armchair adventure that can consume an entire morning with ease. As an aside, I confess these armchair adventures can consume entire mornings with ease even when I don't have the excuse of research. Yesterday I managed to restrict myself to two Facebook quizzes and one amazing pet story, but some days I am a sucker for every come-hither headline.

Aline also mentioned the joy of spending hours talking directly to experts. It's all research, right, and we learn such fascinating things. Who else has a job where they can explore antique dolls one day and post-traumatic stress another? Rarely a dull moment in the life of a writer. Such research also serves as busy work and a nice distraction when we can't think where on earth to go next in the novel.

But one of my favourite types of research is physical location scouting. One can learn a lot about a place by researching on the web. Google Earth, maps and Street view can show us the layout. Numerous websites can tell us more than we might ever need about the history, culture, and make-up of a place. Online videos, photos, and travel blogs can round out the objective statistics with visual and personal input. It is possible to write an entire novel set in a place without ever having laid eyes on it. Possible, and sometimes necessary, but never ideal.


In my view, there is no substitute for standing in that place, surrounded on all sides, hearing, seeing, and breathing it. No amount of imagination or conjuring can make up for the specific, concrete reality. I always try to visit the places I write about, even if it is just one scene in the book, and that visit almost always adds a dimension or rich detail to the story. A small example occurred to me today. I had taken a two-day road trip to the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal to check out the location of my current book in progress. If my character was going to spend 300 pages in the Laurentian wilderness, I needed to know what she was going to encounter. I'd been to the Laurentians many times, but never that place. Never with a writer's eye.

I had in mind a particular village, but in driving around, I stopped for gas and discovered a much more picturesque and interesting village near by. I walked around to take pictures (another aspect of my research) and wandered over to look at what I thought was a classic French Canadian graveyard beside the little white church. As was typical of rural Quebec, the graveyard was presided over by a large concrete statue of the Virgin Mary cloaked in blue. I read tombstones, always a potential source of last names. Imagine my surprise when they weren't Sauve or Paradis or Levesque, but Majic, Solinski, and other long Polish names.


Here was an interesting twist. A Polish settlement in the middle of traditional, French Catholic, rural Quebec. I don't know what I will do with this tidbit yet, maybe no more than a mention, but maybe a major character will emerge with that background. There were many more delightful discoveries on that trip. The sound of a creek gurgling over fallen leaves, the moss clinging to boulders... All of it adds not just authenticity and accuracy to the story, but also a richness and texture that internet and book research cannot.

And the best part of it all, I get to go on mini-vacations and experience places I wouldn't normally see. Up close and personal, as I try to see them through a writer's eye. And what could be better than that? If it takes up a couple of days or even several weeks, it's worth it in the end. If not to my writing, at least to me!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On the outside looking in

by Rick Blechta

I am struggling with a particularly pernicious case of the flu. Strange also, because the biggest symptom is extreme vertigo. It’s gradually getting better, but on Friday when it struck, I couldn’t even sit up, let alone stand. Actually, with the swiftness by which it struck, that first part was rather frightening.

Which brings me to this week’s post’s topic: being “there” yet apart.

I’ll bet you’ve noticed the same thing when you’re really sick. Beyond feeling terrible (and being bored with the whole procedure), you lie in bed and suddenly you’re seemingly not part of your household anymore. Life is going on without you, somehow. Everything feels as if all activity, all sounds and smells are coming to you through an invisible curtain. It becomes almost a dreamlike state to be there. You are separate and experiencing things voyeuristically. Well, that’s how it feels to me.

I remember once being quite ill as a child, and I could hear my family discussing me in the living room. I’m sure they thought I was asleep or they were talking softly enough. My brother said I was faking and my sister felt I was taking up too much of the family’s attention. My mom admitted she was run off her feet. I guess all of them were just feeling cranky because of the “sickie”. The interesting thing was hearing them speaking honestly, not the way they would have had I been (knowingly) with earshot. Being ill, I had the distance I’ve spoken of above and it lent the whole episode a very surrealistic air.

My childhood imagination immediately projected me as being dead and I started daydreaming about what that might be like. Had I felt better, I might have written something. Even in those days, I would write “books”, although they generally would be only 10 pages in length!

Well, that’s all I have the energy for at the moment, so it will have to do for this week.

Stay well, everyone, and stay away from this flu bug! It is no fun at all.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Beware Research!

Ian Rankin, the hugely successful Scottish crime writer, starts his Canadian book tour in Vancouver shortly. He was interviewed recently by The Globe and Mail about the top five habits that made him successful.

Some of them  struck a chord with me –  read a lot and read widely; follow where your story leads you – and others just wouldn't work for me. Write the story as fast as you can at first without bothering about detail would leave me in a total mess when it came to the second draft.

I don't feel I have to write a perfect first draft but I do have to feel that the story makes sense as I go along and if I change a character's motivation or have a development that would contradict what I've said before, I can't write comfortably till I've gone back and fixed it.

But the thing Ian mentioned that had me nodding as I read it was the point he made about research. Research, he said, could be a rabbit hole down which you can disappear for weeks at a time. It is  fraught with danger.

Research is certainly much more efficient since the Internet. You need some small piece of information, say, like finding out the precise date of a pop festival. You Google it, check it and get back to your writing. It saves hours that you would have spent consulting – well, I don't know exactly what. Old newspapers, perhaps?

But then you catch sight of something interesting on the page, so you have a look at that, and then you're led on to something after that... and before you know where you are, all the hours you saved not looking for old newspapers have vanished.

Where I will say it has helped me is when it comes to quotations. I never put a quotation in without checking it, however well I believe I know it. When I started writing that meant tracking it down, leafing through all the poetry books on my shelf, sometimes, and you know what happens when you leaf through poetry books, don't you? Yes, 'Oh goodness, it's lunch time.'

The most seductive form of research is talking to people who are experts in what you need to know. I'm always amazed that people are so ready to spend their time telling you the secrets of their trade and the conversations can go on for hours, even though it's probably giving you much more information than will ever appear in the book. But hey! You're actually talking to someone just like real working people do, not just sitting in a room by yourself staring at a screen.

Worst of all is researching in depth. It's probably  a subject that already interests you. You need a certain amount of background for your book, but you go on reading long after you've got what you need because it's fascinating. And that counts as work, doesn't it? And of course, while you're engaged in the serious business of researching you can't be expected actually to be getting on with the next chapter. This can go on for months. Procrastination and virtue, both at the same time – what's not to like?

So you have to discipline yourself to stop, if that book is ever to get finished. And that's the most important habit of all – just applying seat of pants to seat of chair and staying there till it's done.

And if you're anywhere near one of Ian's events do go along. He's very interesting and a really nice man.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Guest Blogger Arthur Kerns



Type M for Murder is thrilled to welcome guest author Arthur Kerns this weekend. Art is a retired FBI special agent and past consultant to the intelligence community. He is a former president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. His espionage thrillers, published by Diversion Books, Inc., The Riviera Contract, its sequel The African Contract, and his 2016 release The Yemen Contract, feature the adventures of CIA operative Hayden Stone.


A STRANGER READS MY BOOK

I noticed her mother first. Stylish and attractive, she was better dressed than most of the churning mob in the Phoenix airport terminal, waiting for their Memorial Day weekend flights. She sat across from me six seats away crammed in with other passengers, listening for their boarding calls. An unintelligible announcement barked over the loudspeaker and she stood, leaned down to a young woman in her early twenties, who I figured was her daughter, and handed her a carry-on bag. The girl accepted the bag without taking her eyes from the book she held. She continued to read as the older woman made her way through the conflicting aromas from the food concessions to the restroom area.

In the seat next to me, my wife tapped my arm and pointed to a message on her phone. Our son and his family were meeting us at the Austin, Texas airport.

I glanced back at the young woman still absorbed in her book. What concentration she had. Amidst all this terminal turmoil, she appeared focused on the pages before her, repeatedly touching a finger to the lips, then with the same finger turning a page.

When she paused and lifted the book, I saw the cover. It looked very familiar. Looked very much like the cover of my book. My debut novel. Had some other author used a similar design?

Then I realized it was my book this stranger was reading. I whispered to my wife to look and motioned with my head toward the young woman.

“Don’t you dare!” my wife said.

“What?”

“Ask if she wants it signed.”

“Never occurred to me.” I said unconvincingly.

The girl returned to the book, that is my book. I tried to study her expression for some indication of what she thought about the story, but saw only focused attention. She turned the pages at a steady rate so apparently she was into the plot—maybe. It looked like she was about mid-way through the book and I tried to imagine what scene she was in. Was it an action scene? Too early for the love scene.

The young woman was a complete stranger. Never saw her in my life. How did she come by the book? Where did she buy it? At a bookstore or over the Internet? Did a friend recommend it?

The older woman returned and spoke to the girl while looking at her watch. She pointed to the book and asked something. I watched to see if I could figure out what the girl said, but couldn’t detect anything positive or negative. She could have been talking about the weather.

“Stop looking at her.” My wife nudged me. “Get your things, our plane’s boarding.”

I put my laptop back in the case, found my boarding pass, and then looked back in the direction of the two women. They were gone.

And any chance to know what the young woman thought of my book.

Just as well.
___________
Please visit Art at his website  http://www.arthurkerns.com


Friday, November 13, 2015

Good Advice? or Not?

When I was peddling my first novel I acquired a wonderful agent, Claire Smith, of Harold Ober Associates. She was known throughout the industry for her wisdom. The few times I needed to call her, I was absolutely terrified of sounding really, really dumb (which I really, really was) or presumptuous for calling in the first place.

But one very memorable day I called her in a state of absolute fury. I had gotten feedback from a "book doctor" an editor had contacted on my behalf. The advice was so bad I was incensed. Mainly because this man did not know a thing about the historical background. But also because he knew so little about the intent of the book and wanted to redo mine into a romance.

I told her I didn't want to be one of those temperamental prima donnas who wouldn't listen to criticism.

What was really going on of course, was that I very young and vulnerable and this manuscript had become overly important in my own mind.

I'll never forget what Claire said. She began with "Congratulations. You're starting to acquire the first hard shell that is required to become a writer. It's the first of many, if you are going to survive."

Then she gave me this advice on advice. "You don't trust nobody, kid. You don't trust your enemies and you certainly don't trust your friends. And you don't change anything just because you think they are smart. It's only when something resonates in your gut—when you know they are right that you change your work."

Her words were very freeing. I've gone by them ever since. Nailing what's wrong with a manuscript is part of the process. Advice doesn't have to come to us directly. Some times when I'm struggling and hear a talk by another author or read someone's blog, the light flashes. I know instantly what is holding up the work. It's a terrific feeling.

By this time, I've become a  lot more objective. I'm usually capable of recognizing good advice but also acutely aware of how subjective the book business is. Even if a mystery is regarded as brilliant by the critics and the buying public, it might not be my cup of tea.

I'm very cautious about "helping" newbies with their writing. I may be dead wrong. Most worrisome is not being familiar with a genre. I don't want to ruin someone. It's hard to believe that anyone would take my advice that seriously, but they might. And I might be spectacularly wrong.

It's nothing short of a miracle to stumble onto the right editor at the right house. Even more miraculous for a book to click, create buzz and go on to be a best seller.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reverse Novel Writing?

It's taken much longer than I thought, but I've (hopefully) finished sketching out the next three novels in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agent / single mother Peyton Cote series. The four drafts have seen the synopses balloon from six pages to 12 and finally thinned out to seven ("Keep chopping wood," my screenwriter friend Clyde Phillips says). After reading each draft, my agent calls and offers helpful questions regarding the arc of books 4, 5, and 6 – or the next three years of my life.

To a news junky like me who follows ISIL's every move on CNN (I'm awaiting my library's e-mail saying Michael Weiss's new book has arrived), planning what I'm going to write three years from now is difficult. I write procedural novels that revolve around a woman whose primary professional task is to protect the U.S. from acts of terror. So predicting what Peyton's life will be like is not easy. It's also been a new approach to the writing process. I'm someone who equates writing to driving at night: I know the story as far as I can see it, writing one scene and then the next, driving to the edge of my headlights. Therefore, my focus during the outline process has been creating secondary characters I'd like to go the distance with and rough storylines that intrigue me (and, hopefully, my publisher, who should receive the proposal soon.)

So now that I have three ideas I like, I'm trying them out.

I talk to my students often about something called a reverse outline. That is, once you've written your paper, go back, highlight your thesis and topic sentences and make an outline of your paper -- after you've finished it. See if the outline represents the goals you began with.

I'm taking this process to my three-book arc, writing a short story based on the outline of book #4. Secondary characters and parallel plots will surely have to go, but the premise of the story can remain intact. A trial run, a reverse outline of sorts.

We've all heard the adage: If you can't write your idea on the back of my business card, it's probably not a good idea. Well, a writer should be able to describe his or her book in two sentences. So if my plot is to hold up, I should be able to write a story in 7,500 words or less, right?

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Promote that Book!

Last Sunday I was the Featured Author at the monthly Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles meeting. That means I read for five minutes from one of my books. I think it went fairly well. At least, I didn’t hear any snoring!

The majority of the meeting was taken up with a presentation by book publicist Liz Donatelli of Liz D Publicity. She spent part of her time explaining what a book publicist does and the rest talking about what authors can do themselves to promote their work. Here are some highlights from the talk. 

  • Advertising v. Book Publicity. The two are not the same thing. I don’t remember ever hearing this explanation before, but it makes sense. Advertising is paid exposure such as taking out an ad in a magazine. Book publicity is free media exposure like social media posts, articles in local newspapers, etc. As a book publicist, Liz doesn’t deal with the advertising end. 
  • Be seen, be available, build a fan base.
  • No effort is too small.
  • Promotional materials such as bookmarks and postcards are a must. People want them. Carry them with you at all times; you never know when you’ll meet someone who will be interested in your work.
  • There are no hidden secrets to book publicity. We all wish there were, but there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee book sales. Produce a great product with as unique a hook as possible.
  • A website is a must. No surprise here. The pages an author should have are: (1) a Books page that includes book covers and descriptions as well as purchase links; (2) an Author page that includes a short bio and picture; (3) an Events page where you list in-person and online events; (4) a Media page that includes links to reviews, interviews and articles. Don’t list every review and be sure to keep the site up to date.
  • Social media is necessary. Facebook, GoodReads and Twitter are the main platforms for authors with the first two being the most important. An author should have a Facebook page separate from a personal one. She recommended posting 1-2 times per day. For twitter aim to tweet, retweet and reply to tweets ten times per day, 80% informative and entertaining, 20% promotional. (I shrug my shoulders when I hear how many posts and tweets I’m supposed to be doing. First of all, if I’m following someone and they tweet 10 times/day, I’ll probably unfollow them. That’s too many times for me. I realize I’m probably in the minority here. And, if I tweeted that many times plus did all of the other stuff I’m “supposed” to do, I’d end up not getting any writing done.)
  • Don’t rely solely on your publisher to promote your book.
  • Do joint events with other authors. It’ll bring in more people. In my opinion, it’s also more fun. And if the authors are having fun, attendees will too. 
  • Do both online and in-person events.
  • Work your contacts. Who do you know who will/can help you contact your readers? Be creative.
  • Be patient and don’t compare yourself with other authors.
Ultimately, as authors we have to decide what kind of promotion and the amount of it that we do for each book. Balancing promotion, writing and real life can be tough. What works best for one author may not work for another.

So, Type M readers, have any of you seen a book promotion activity you found particularly interesting/creative? Is there any promotional activity that you find annoying?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Makes you wonder…

by Rick Blechta

Many years ago now I read a short story about how everyone woke up one day and they could only tell the truth. I wish I could remember the name. I believe I found it in a SciFi anthology of short stories from the Golden Age. Maybe someone could help out on that.

Anyway, you can imagine the chaos that ensued. For all intents and purposes, everyone was suddenly naked — psychologically, and there was no place to hide. Personal relationships were destroyed, governments fell, and of course, corporations were in a whole lot of trouble.

Almost the entire population of the planet Earth had to figure out how to continue if this sudden inability to say anything untrue went on forever. The only people without any difficulties were young children, and if my memory is accurate the story ended from their viewpoint as they observed the adults around them overwhelmed, distraught and depressed.

If the story indeed came out of the 1950s, imagine how much more devastating the results would be in 2015. Daily existence is now more lie than truth.

Let’s take the current presidential contest taking place in the States. Imagine all those candidates being suddenly unable to lie or even stretch the truth. I think a Donald Trump campaign rally would be the place to be, even though the people attending those seem to tell the truth more often than one might hope. (And the results are very ugly.)

I think the first thing I would do would be to call up a certain publisher or two and finally find out what they thought they were doing. Certain folks in the music business would follow shortly thereafter.

Now if I were going to re-imagine this story with a less apocalyptic ending, I would have a protagonist who invented a device or maybe a chemical that when administered would make it impossible for the person(s) exposed to it to tell a lie for, say, twenty-four hours, although even an hour or two would suffice. My hero would then go on a crusade to visit certain people at critical times. An obvious target would be a politician about to give a speech, or worse yet, hold a press conference. Chaos would still ensue, but it would be more confined and might ultimately help humanity. Who knows?

Of course, this person would instantly be public enemy number one to the people who hold the reins of power. (Look at how Edward Snowdon has been treated, and all he’s doing is disseminating a bit of truth.)

So what do you think? Would this make a great story? Consider the idea up for grabs. Just mention me in the credits, thanks.